Posted at: 12/13/2012 9:12 PM
Updated at: 12/14/2012 5:48 PM
By: John Doetkott
(ABC 6 News) -- More than 20% of families with kids in the Austin public school district live in poverty. And while that's already nearly 8% higher than the state average, school officials said that doesn't even begin to describe the problem.
"That 20% is misleading, over 50% of our kids are living in poverty. So maybe the families are in poverty, but remember, they have multiple kids,” said David Krenz, superintendent for Austin public schools.
Officials estimate between 40 and 50% of district kids qualify for free or reduced lunch, something they say is critical for kids to learn effectively.
“We know that if people aren't eating, if they're not surviving, they're not going to be learning," Krenz said.
And those basic necessities are what schools are desperate for. Officials said they don't have much trouble collecting school supplies, but have a much harder time getting things like coats, hats, gloves, and food.
“If those basic things aren't taken care of, it's very difficult if not impossible for kids to learn at the rate they need to be," said Dewey Schara, principal of Neveln Elementary School.
To help, schools have reached out to local businesses and other organizations to start food and clothing drives.
And thanks to help from local churches, they've even begun a weekend backpack program where kids can take a backpack full of food home for the weekend to ensure they're getting enough nutrition when free school lunch isn't available.
“Without some of that assistance from our community, we would have many of our students struggling desperately," Schara said.
And while they've seen success with those programs, school officials know the problem isn't going away anytime soon. If you would like to donate, please contact your local school.